Two Races Remaining Before Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Begins
FORD ATLANTA FAST FACTS:
· Carl Edwards comes into this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway needing a win to help his chances at making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The good news for Edwards is that he has three series victories at AMS, including the first of his career in 2005. In fact, Edwards swept both races that season and then captured the fall event in 2008.
· Ford Racing has 30 all-time NSCS wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but Edwards is the only current Ford driver with a series triumph.
· Bill Elliott holds the record for most Ford wins at AMS with five while Fred Lorenzen finished his career with four.
· The Wood Brothers have won more NSCS races at Atlanta Motor Speedway than any other team with 12. But did you know that when Morgan Shepherd won the Motorcraft 400 on March 20, 1993 it marked Ford Racing’s 400th series victory. That total heading into this weekend now stands at 610.
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Ford EcoBoost Ford Fusion, has clinched a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Kenseth, who currently sits fourth in the overall standings, spoke to reporters in the Atlanta Motor Speedway infield media center before today’s practice session.
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Ford EcoBoost Ford Fusion – THOUGHTS ON ATLANTA THIS WEEKEND. “I hope we don’t slip all the way back to a wild card. That means we’re gonna have two really bad weeks, but I’m looking forward to racing here at Atlanta. I think as a racer everybody really likes this track and even as a fan we used to watch these races or still go back and re-watch these races. I think it always puts on a really exciting race the way the asphalt is worn out and the banking is so high and you can move all over the race track, and the pace slows down and all that, so I’m anxious to get on the track and hope we have a good weekend.”
THERE ARE FIVE 1.5-MILE TRACKS IN THE CHASE. HOW MUCH WILL THIS WEEKEND BE A BAROMETER FOR WHAT TO EXPECT? “All of the tracks, I think, are pretty unique. There are some that are more similar than others, but I think this one, certainly, right now, all by itself, I don’t think there’s another one – maybe just a little bit Texas because the pavement is a little bit older there – but I don’t think you take a lot from here that’s gonna help you at some of those other mile-and-a-halves.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY SYMPATHY FOR GUYS HANGING ON THE EDGE, LIKE KYLE BUSCH, WHO ARE TRYING TO MAKE THIS CHASE? “Well, yeah. I’ve been there. I think everybody is there for different reasons and for different situations. The year we didn’t make it and in the other year where we barely slid in, it was all because our performance wasn’t good enough. I think in Kyle’s case, his performance has been pretty good. They’ve had a lot of mechanical problems, flat tires – a lot of problems to keep him there – so I think he’s got a good shot of getting in and, if he does, he’s certainly gonna be one of the guys you’re gonna have to try to beat.”
HAVE YOU SPOKEN TO TONY STEWART YET AFTER LAST WEEK’S INCIDENT? “I have not yet. I tried to get up with him this morning and missed him, but I plan to try to talk to him.”
THIS SPORT WAS THRUST INTO THE MAINSTREAM BECAUSE OF A FIGHT. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT RAW EMOTION RESONATES SO MUCH WITH THE FAN BASE? “I don’t know. That stuff is always fun to watch. I hate being involved in it. I don’t like that part of it, but I always like watching it. I love watching other people’s conflicts. I mean, everybody does. It’s human nature. I think the fans loved the helmet toss. I thought that was cool, too, although I wish it wasn’t being tossed at me because it meant that he was upset with me. I don’t like that part, but I think the rest of it, I think it’s just human nature to like conflict and like controversy and action. Everybody wants to see good racing and a competitive finish, but everybody – whether people admit or not – a lot of people like to see the wrecks and see guys go over the edge and see something like that happen. I think that’s been part of the sport for a lot of years and, in general, people like the action.”
YOU AND TONY HAVE HAD ISSUES BEFORE. IS IT A CASE WHERE YOUR DRIVING STYLES JUST MAY NOT MESH? “I don’t think so. I think if you race long enough, you’re probably gonna have some type of disagreement with pretty much everybody on the track that you’re competitive with, whether it’s a very minor one or a major one that everybody notices. Or maybe it’s just something on the track that none of the media notices and you just take care of it. I think some of that stuff is natural. Honestly, last week I was really surprised. I wasn’t trying to put our cars in a bad situation. I thought we were gonna make it through there and I thought it was gonna be alright, so I’m not sure what all went down there, but, actually, Tony and I, in general, 99 percent of the time at least, show each other probably more respect and more room on the track than probably most people have. There have been a couple instances here and there, but I think, overall, we try to show each other a lot of respect and we usually get that back.”
DOES THIS TRACK STAND OUT MORE WITH THE PAVEMENT BEING 15 YEARS OLD COMPARED TO ALL THE NEW REPAVE JOBS THIS YEAR? “Yeah. Depending how you look at it, they’ve come so far with the stuff they use to make the blacktop on these race tracks that it doesn’t wear out anymore, it doesn’t get abrasive and it lasts forever. In my opinion, I don’t think the racing is as good like that. Charlotte has been how many years ago now, 2006 or something like that, since it’s been paved and it seems like it was paved last year when you go out there. It just doesn’t wear out. Even Darlington, with all the sand floating around that place, it hasn’t worn out a bit, so I think tracks like this and Rockingham and Kansas, before they paved it, Chicago right now, Texas, I think those places are more worn out. I think it puts on a better race because you can move around the race track. You’ve got to manage your tires a little bit, where you don’t really have to do that very much anymore. The way this sport is you can usually run them pretty hard with the way they build the tires, whereas here you have to manage that a little bit and compromise your setup a little bit to be good in the beginning of the run and try to be good at the end of the run as well.”
WHEN YOU’RE INVOLVED IN A DISPUTE AT WHAT POINT CAN YOU STEP BACK AND MAYBE LAUGH ABOUT IT? “I think there have been a lot of times in my career when I’ve done dumb things or made people mad, and I think it’s hard to laugh about that because I don’t like having mad at me and I don’t like being mad at other people, and you don’t like wrecking race cars, whether they’re yours or somebody else’s. You never enjoy any of that ,but I think when you can get it worked out with that person, when you actually either both agree to disagree or you end up agreeing or seeing each other’s point of view a little bit, I think maybe you can get past that and laugh about it or talk about it a little bit hopefully. There have been times like that, where I feel like I’ve had wars with people for a long, long time and then when we got all done with it kind of decided that we were both probably not being that smart. The best thing to do is try to get it in your rearview mirror as quick as you can, try to get whatever problem you may have with something or they have with you, try to get that resolved and move on and go racing. You don’t want to focus on being mad at somebody or somebody being mad at you because if you are, you’re taking focus away from your goal of trying to win races and try to win for a championship.”
HOW WELL POSITIONED DO YOU THINK YOUR TEAM IS HEADING INTO THE CHASE? “I feel like, overall, if I go back six or seven weeks, I’d say we were pretty well prepared as far as what cars we had and how good we felt about those cars, our confidence level, our finishes, our pit stops and all that stuff. I’d say today, I don’t want to say that we’re down by any means, but we got the car at Indy wrecked. Our Pocono car was our best car that we were planning on using a lot in the Chase and got that one wrecked going for the lead there at the end. I thought we had a good shot at trying to win that race and got that one wrecked. And that car at Bristol was our Dover car and another good car we were gonna try to use in the Chase and got that one wrecked, so it’s just getting us behind and I guess me, since I’m driving them, getting them behind on cars has hurt us a little bit I think. Certainly four of the last five weeks have, in my mind, have been disasters with bad finishes and wrecks and all that, so I think that takes some momentum away and some wind out of your sails. I feel like there’s a little bit of urgency to get a couple good finishes here before we get to Chicago.”
Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Subway Ford Fusion, and Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion, held back-to-back press conferences at Atlanta Motor Speedway before qualifying on Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Transcripts of both follow:
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M Ford Fusion – IS THE PRESSURE OFF THIS WEEK SINCE YOU’RE LOCKED IN? “Yeah, definitely the pressure is off, but the pressure is on to win. That’s what we want to do is look for a win here at Atlanta. We were pretty decent off the truck. This place, it seems like every time we come here it’s slicker and slicker and slicker and harder to get a hold of. The car does about four or five things across the corner, so we continue to try to work on that, but you go out there and make a lap and you’re like, ‘Oh, we’re terrible.’ And then you come back and you’re fifth on the speed chart, so it just doesn’t feel like it’s good, but, unlike Michigan or some other place where you really feel the speed and you can really feel inside the car that it was a good lap, it’s a little bit different (here at Atlanta).”
COULD THIS BE ONE OF THE WILDEST RICHMOND RACES WE’VE SEEN IN AWHILE? “I think so and I think here, too, because this race here is just as important as that race. These two races are gonna be tough races for those guys. I’m glad I’m not in that spot, but hopefully I’ll be in that spot when it comes down to Homestead for the title.”
IS IT NICE TO COME TO A PLACE WHERE THE ASPHALT IS SLICK AND IT’S NOT FRESH PAVEMENT? “Yeah, it is nice to come to a place that’s almost the way it used to be, but, there again, we’re searching for grip and it seems like the tire needs even more grip on the first five to eight laps of that run. This doesn’t seem like the old Atlanta where you could go out there and be like Superman, it’s got all kinds of grip and then it falls off. Right when you pull out of the garage and go on the track it doesn’t have any grip, so that’s a little bit different than the way it used to be here, but it is fun when the cars slide around a bite more.”
IS TIRE MANAGEMENT BIGGER HERE THAN OTHER PLACES? “A little bit, but tire management disappeared in 2005 and 2006.”
SO NOT EVEN HERE? IT DOESN’T HELP? “Very little.”
SO THE DRIVER CAN’T MAKE AS MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE? “Very little.”
NEXT WEEK IT’S ALL-OR –NOTHING FOR SOME GUYS. IS IT MORE EXCITING FOR FANS AT A SHORT TRACK AS OPPOSED TO A PLACE LIKE ATLANTA OR MICHIGAN OR CHARLOTTE? “I don’t think so. Like I said, it’s just as important here. There’s a little bit of a disconnect and I keep talking about it, but even though this track is bigger and it’s spread out a little more and the cars may not be as close on the race track and as tight, there’s still as much drama and pressure as there would be at a Martinsville or a Richmond because the same situation is unfolding. Each position, you’re fighting behind the wheel here. You’re sliding, you’re driving down in the corner and it’s loose and you’re trying to get back to the gas, you’re sawing on the wheel, you’re doing everything you can to try and catch that car in front of you. The difference here is the car in front of you might be 15 car lengths away while at Richmond it’s two, but it’s the same principal – you’re fighting your life to try and catch that car in front of you to get that one point. You never know, it could come down to that making the Chase. It could come down to one point.”
CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Subway Ford Fusion – THOUGHTS ON ATLANTA? “We could not be at a better race track. This track is as good as it gets. Driving practice out there was a blast. I love this place for a number of reasons, but, right now, this is the type of track we need. We need a place where you can hang the car out. Fresh tires will be faster than old tires. There will be a lot of passing. There’s definitely three to four and maybe even five grooves out there, so it’s good. I’m having fun so far. It seems like we have a pretty good car. Subway is on board this weekend. It’s Subway’s 47th birthday. I’ll commit to some sandwiches if you guys need some sandwiches. We got a win at Watkins Glen with the Subway car, so that was a big day for us and we’re hoping that we can go out and make something happen. I got to see the lead there for a little while last week. That was fun. I got to hang on and restart in the lead a couple times. I ran out of fuel, but at least we got to be up there racing for it and that was a good time.”
COULD WE SEE THAT WIDE-OPEN CARL EDWARDS WE’VE SEEN IN THE PAST HERE AT ATLANTA AND KANSAS? “I am all the time. I’m sorry you haven’t noticed that lately.” MIGHT IT BE MORE BLATANT OR OBVIOUS? “You always set these questions up so that I have to just agree with some portion of your question ,that there are two different ways that I drive, but I’m not gonna agree with that. First of all, at this track, you are right, this track is one where you can drive the car sideways, you can take chances, you can burn the tires off for three laps and make it look good and get yourself in a position to do something spectacular. It’s not like fresh pavement where everybody is stuck to one groove. This is a track where, even though I hate to agree with you in any way (laughing), I could go out there and you could maybe bend that car around the corner a little harder and make something happen if you want to. I’m ready for that. That’s what I meant when I said I’m glad to be here – a track where you can do that, where you can try a little harder and make something happen.”
HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR TIRES? “To try to explain this to you guys, I don’t know how many of you guys have driven race cars, but when you start the first lap, you pull out of the pits, you drive through turns three and four in practice and it feels great, it feels like you’ve got 2000 pounds of downforce. The car has all this grip. You get into turn one and two it feels really good, but almost by the time you get back to three and four again to come to the checkered flag you can start to feel the tires get slicker and every lap you run it’s like you lose an inch of tire, the tire gets narrower and slicker and that’s what it feels like until finally you’re running around with literally no grip. You’ll see guys in there with their hands just slinging that steering wheel around trying to keep the car going in the right direction because it’s sliding all over the place. The only way you can really save your tires is to go slower, and then if you go slower, somebody will invariably blow right by you and then you have to deal with passing them later, so it’s a real balancing act and it’s hard to do. I think there are some schools of thought that say you should just go as hard as you can on the tire the whole time and that will make it stay good, and some people think you should go easy. It’s hard to say. I’ve had some good runs where we were great at the end here, and I’ve had some green flag runs where we’ve been a second off the fastest guys. I haven’t put it together. I don’t really know exactly what is the best way to do it.”
THIS SPORT IS PERSONALITY DRIVEN. YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR LIFE, BUT NOT YOUR FAMILY. HOW DO YOU DRAW THE LINE ON WHAT YOU TALK ABOUT PUBLICLY? “Here’s the way I look at my job. My job is to do a couple things. My job is to go out there and be the best race car driver I can be, number one. I’ve got to be as fast as I can be in that race car because without that, there’s really no reason for Jack to have me in the car or for sponsors to be on board or for fans to where my t-shirts and things like that. Second, I’ve got to be honest with you guys and try to explain to you what’s going on so that you can deliver it to the fans and everyone, and, really, beyond that, that’s my job. What’s strange for me as a person is that eight, nine years ago I was just walking around here handing out business cards trying to get people to hire me to do this, and I guess what I’m saying is I feel like I’ve lived two completely different lives and I’ve realized along the way that this second life with fame and success has some down sides to it, too. So what I try to do personally is I try to maintain as normal a life as I can away from this and then when I’m here I try to give it my best. That’s kind of how I deal with it.”
MARK MARTIN SAID TRYING TO MAKE THE CHASE IS THE HARDEST THING HE’S EVER HAD TO DO. WHAT’S IT BEEN LIKE FOR YOU THE LAST FEW WEEKS TRYING TO GET IN? “I haven’t watched the number very much. You guys probably noticed that when I ran the thing out of fuel at Bristol only a few points out of 10th. That was pretty dumb, but I haven’t been paying attention to the numbers. I’ve been subscribing to the idea that I should just go out and try my hardest to win and get in on a win. That’s what I’ve been doing. I haven’t been paying too much attention to the numbers. I tell you what, I did look at the calendar today, I was sitting there with Randy (Fuller) and we were going over the calendar and it was like nine or 10 days Richmond is gonna be done and we’re either gonna be in or out. That made my heart rate go up just a little bit when we realized, ‘Hey, we’ve got to do this. We’ve got to make it happen.’ But I have been doing this long enough now, I feel like I have a better perspective and I feel that I can accept whatever happens, but I’m pretty confident we’re gonna make it and I haven’t really started to think about how I would feel if we don’t. I hope I can deal with it in a good manner, if I have to, but we feel like we can win this week. We feel like we can win next week. I feel like we’re close enough in points that we could do it, and, if we don’t for some reason, I know why. There are a bunch of points laying out there this season that we let go that luck got us on. That’s probably about as deep as I’ve thought about it, and I just hope it works out.”
WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS THE TOP REASON YOU’RE IN THIS SITUATION? “There are a couple reasons we’re in this position in points. One of them is not the fact that we finished second last year in the championship, truly. We’re adults. We’re good competitors and we’ve finished second before. I’ve had disappointment. We started the season on the pole at the Daytona 500 and thought we were never gonna look back. As we went through the season there are two things that happened that I think really set us behind. Number one, terrible luck. Think of qualifying at Michigan the first time we went there, the bolt came off the secondary for fuel injection for the butterflies. I mean, it seems like things like that have happened to us. We got in that wreck at Bristol. We had the sparkplug wire come off at Indy running fourth, I think. We’ve had all these things that happened during the year combined with, I believe, Bob and his situation – him not being able to really perform at the highest level that he has over the last few years – I think all of that kind of added up to just mediocre performance combined with terrible luck and we’re 100-and-something points out of the lead. I truly believe after racing with Matt and Greg as long as I have, and seeing what goes on in the shop, that we should be as fast as those guys. I feel like we’re all at the same level on average driving-wise and I feel like at the shop we all share enough stuff that we should have been better performance-wise and it’s been a lack of performance and bad luck, truly. I don’t wake up every morning and go, ‘Man, I can’t believe we didn’t win that championship last year.’
“I don’t think anybody on the team is thinking about that. We go every week and do our best. I really think it’s a combination (bad luck and performance). If you look at last year, we performed just a little better – we performed like Matt and Greg have been performing all year. We just performed that much better and we had just spectacular luck. I mean, there were races that things went our way and cautions came when we needed them and it was really good. That elevated us to a high level for a long time. This year at Pocono we qualified second and I’m thinking, ‘This is awesome.’ We drive down in the first corner and Denny just clobbered the left rear of the car, so all day we’re fighting from the back. It just seems like every race has been kind of a struggle that way. That’s really what I believe to be the issues. I don’t think there’s a big personality issue within the team, no big conflicts or anything. I think that’s what it is.”
WHAT KIND OF WILD CARD RACE IS TALLADEGA? “Talladega is just crazy. It’s not one you want to go into having to get a good points day at – it’s not one that everybody circles on their schedule and goes, ‘I can’t wait.’ Especially the guys who have a bunch to lose, so that’s been a really tough race for me a couple of times because of how difficult it is and how much I have been through there and our team has been through with wrecked race cars and all sorts of issues. It’s one that it would be really nice to win a race there. It would be real special, but it’s real tough.”
IS THERE ONE PLACE YOU LOST POINTS THAT YOU KIND OF KICK YOURSELF OVER? I RECALL RICHMOND IMMEDIATELY. “No, not really. I feel if I had to do Richmond all over again, I would have done it the exact same way. Obviously, I wouldn’t knowing what I know now, but to re-visit that one more time – they told us we were in the lead, I thought I was leading the race and I started it as early as I could to make up for the disadvantage I had being on the outside, and NASCAR penalized me because, in fact, I wasn’t leading the race, so I don’t know what a guy is supposed to do in that position, other than to know who in the hell is leading the race. That was a big problem (laughing). From all of that you learn. I’ve seen enough in this sport to know that we could go out and win these next two races and everything could be great, I could be on top of the world, we could go in the Chase and we could blow up the engine the first two races and it could be over. So it really didn’t matter that we were in the Chase. Or, we could not make the Chase, we could go run the next 10 races, learn a ton of things and practice a bunch of stuff and come win the championship next year and it wouldn’t have happened next year if we didn’t miss it. I try to just wring every little good thing I can out of anything that happens and that’s the way I’ve gotten ahead in this game and the way I try to approach everything. So I’ll just do all I can, but, truly, unless you guys ask, I don’t sit around and lament those races and worry about them. It’s just the way it is.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT QUALIFYING HERE AT ATLANTA? “It’s a fast lap, it really is, and you mentally have to prepare for this lap because your tires are so bad the second lap. I can’t tell you how many times, I watched a qualifying video from last year and I was like, ‘Man, I missed turn one.’ I mean, I just drove in and missed where I wanted to be on the race track. We got a couple good qualifying practice laps in and I feel pretty good about it, but the track is gonna be about a half-a-second to seven-tenths of a second faster. Jimmie had a great line one time when he said something like your commitment level has to meet the level of grip you’re gonna have, so it’s really difficult to drive down into turn one and decide when to lift off the throttle because you just don’t know how much grip you’re gonna have. It’s a really satisfying race to qualify well at.”
HOW MORE DISTINCTIVE IS THIS TRACK SINCE IT HAS SOME AGE TO IT? “If the Lord were to take me from this Earth right now, there would be a place in heaven that would look a lot like this race track. I mean, it is awesome. It’s as good as it gets. If there was a way to repave tracks just like this, this is how they should pave all of them. It’s so awesome, you guys. I mean, you drive down in the corner and it’s awesome. We’re gonna wear out steering boxes. We’re slinging the cars sideways. It’s just fun and then the tires fall off and the times slow down, and there are gonna be guys coming and going. There is gonna be somebody on the last pit stop who takes tires and passes 20 cars in five laps. That stuff is fun, so I just hope whatever they do they can maintain this pavement and not have to repave it, and, if they do, please pave it just like it is.”